One-Third Of Roads Rated in Bad Shape

Conditions Cost Drivers Hundreds

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nearly a third of all major roads in the Washington area are in poor condition, costing motorists $458 a year in extra vehicle expenses, according to a report released yesterday by a pair of national transportation research and advocacy groups.

The report, "Rough Roads Ahead: Fix Them Now or Pay for It Later," found that 30 percent of Washington area roads in 2007 were considered in mediocre condition, 13 percent were fair and 27 percent were good.

The study, by the Road Information Program and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, found that among metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 people, Washington ranks 25th in the country for poor road conditions, behind major cities such as Los Angeles, which is rated the worst, New York and Philadelphia. The report defined additional vehicle costs as extra operating expenses such as accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, increased fuel consumption and tire wear. The report found that the continued increase in urban traffic is putting significant wear and tear on roads as transportation funding either falls or fails to keep pace with the rate of road degradation.

Area transportation advocates said the news was consistent with long-standing trends in the Washington region. The percentage of poor roads in the region has increased from 25 percent in 2004 to 31 percent in 2007, and the number of roads rated as good declined from 33 percent to 27 percent over that same period, according to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

"Anyone who drives around the region, especially in Northern Virginia, knows that roads are getting worse," said Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that favors more state investment in road and rail projects. He said a 10-cent increase in the gas tax, which his group favors, would cost each Virginia motorist an average of $60 a year, much less than the poor roads are costing them.

The groups used a federal rating system that defines roads as "poor," "mediocre," "fair" and "good" based on individual motorists' assessments of the country's roads. Each road is then given a score based on those motorists' individual observations.

Blaming the continued deterioration of U.S. roads on traffic growth and lack of public investment, the report found that the number of miles driven in this country jumped 41 percent from 1990 to 2007 -- from 2.1 trillion miles to 3 trillion. Nearly 66 percent of that driving was on urban roads.

Although the stimulus package will provide $27 billion nationwide for highway projects, including $124 million in Washington, $431 million in Maryland and $694 million in Virginia, the report's authors said this amount can be only a beginning to more investment.

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